Step by Step help young people facing challenges, including homelessness, by providing accommodation, specialised support services and personal development opportunities across six counties in the South of England.
Understanding young people’s individual aspirations and helping them realise these goals is a key part of Step by Step’s work, but their listening culture and practices were quite varied across different services and locations. Their application to TLF focused on developing coherence and coordination across their listening, creating standardised feedback practices which would work throughout the organisation. Step by Step also wanted to upskill young people, giving them more confidence to present their ideas and opinions and to share their expertise.
As for most TLF partners, this work hasn’t been easy or straightforward. On a recent visit to their offices in Aldershot, the team at Step by Step shared some of what they have learnt over the past 18 months:
1. Staff need support to be able to listen effectively. Due to staff turnover, Step by Step have both had a dedicated project manager for this work and also included the role’s responsibilities within a member of the team’s wider duties. Both approaches have had advantages and disadvantages: the project manager had a greater overview of the work and more capacity to drive forward change, but had less developed relationships with young people who used Step by Step’s services. Distributing the role’s responsibilities between other staff has meant that those who have excellent relationships with young people are now more involved in advancing the organisation’s listening culture, but Step by Step no longer has that single point of focus for driving change. For both approaches, success has therefore been reliant on support and engagement from colleagues – both managerial and delivery-focused – to maximise strengths and address weaknesses.
2. Developing an improved listening culture requires the buy-in of young people. One of the challenges faced by Step by Step is that many of the young people they work with only use their services for short amounts of time and are, whilst engaging with Step by Step, facing a multitude of significant pressures. As a result, although young people have expressed an interest in developing the organisation’s listening and holding Step by Step more accountable, sustained engagement has been difficult. Step by Step have looked for some quick wins to demonstrate the benefits of engaging – making changes to their environmental policies based on young people’s opinions, for example – and will continue to refine the remit and procedures of their young people’s Advisery Group to encourage young people to share their expertise.
3. Good listening requires organisational commitment. Demonstrating to young people that Step by Step wants to improve its listening has meant that all departments have had to consider how they work with young people, from fundraising and marketing through to the Senior Management Team, considering how they seek young people’s opinions, how they represent them, and what power young people have to question and critique. Without this commitment, listening risks feeling extractive, only being available at a time and on subjects which suit the organisation.
Step by Step’s listening work is continuing to develop and whilst the challenges they have faced are significant, and progress towards a coherent listening framework has been slower than they hoped, the organisation’s commitment to young people and their right to development opportunities means they are determined to hear what young people they have to say.